I've thought about doing this for some time, but wanted to be in the right frame of mind for it. These experiences I had with my mother-in-law have significantly influenced my life. Indirectly, they are responsible for my decision to become a marriage and family therapist. I've learned what I can from them and will continue to learn from the interactions my family has with her. And I will never, ever forget that whatever happens with this woman, I am important, I do matter, and she can't take that from me.
If you don't know what Narcissistic Personality Disorder is, it's not an easy thing to describe. Sure, you can grab a copy of the DSM-IV-TR and it will give you a list of all the necessary ingredients to clinically prescribe the diagnosis of NPD. What it won't tell you is the feeling you get from being around someone who has this. And let me just say at this point that my MIL has never been officially diagnosed with NPD. My therapist of several years ago suggested it (and he had met her) and I'm 90% sure from my schooling that she has it, but it is not official. Being around someone who has NPD can make you feel like you're losing your mind. Which is how I ended up seeking counseling and additionally how I ended up pursuing a marriage and family therapy degree myself.
So....what was it like? When my husband and I first got married I didn't even notice anything was off with her. She wasn't at our wedding for personal reasons, but did come to the reception which was several days later. Looking back at the pictures from our reception, she had her arm wrapped around her son in every picture. She was very threatened at that point , and the very first thing she said to me after we'd arrived in town was "I hope I like you better than his first wife. I hated her." Happily for us, we lived in California and she lived in Kentucky. The Air Force doesn't particularly care where your family lives as your home becomes wherever they send you.
We were pretty much left alone for the first 2.5 years of our marriage. When I asked my husband later why that was, he replied "She just thought we were going to get divorced." Then I got pregnant. This was a very weird time for me because throughout our entire marriage my husband had wanted to have a baby, and I was the one who kept saying no. I honestly thought I'd be a horrible mom, but looking back on it I really think this was from issues with my first boyfriend who was horrible. Anyhow, I was trying to wrap my head around the fact that I was pregnant, and all these hormonal changes were happening to my body, and my mother-in-law all of the sudden would not get out of my life. I swear she shared my pregnancy, which made me extremely uncomfortable because I wasn't comfortable with being preggo or with her. Each week she's send some new baby thing and she was talking to my husband all the time about what she was going to do with the baby once she was born (yes, we knew it was a girl.) I really did wonder sometimes just who was pregnant.
When I was six months pregnant we found out my husband was going to Korea for a year. Yes, you read that right - a year. He actually left when Bess was 6 months old. He and I made the decision that I should go and stay with my parents while he was overseas. We both thought it would be better for Bess and I to be around family while he was gone. If I could get a do-over on that we would have kept ourselves in California. However, live and learn.
Living with my parents was actually pretty great. The problem was that I was only 1.5 hours away from the MIL. And in her world any time away from Bess was too much time. At first my parents invited her to our house because it was easier on everyone for her to come to us. And then the weird started. The MIL has a heart condition that she was born with and occasionally she has to get tests and things done for that. It doesn't help that she is severely overweight - it only puts more pressure on her heart. Anyhow, she was talking about this procedure she had to have done. "I hope everything goes well because if it doesn't, who will take care of Renee (her sister), and Mom, and Bess" she sighed dramatically. My mother and I looked at each other, both wondering if she was serious. Thing is, she was very serious. Because people who have NPD have an image of themselves that must be upheld at all times or they devolve. And they are not happy people when they devolve. And in her world, everybody revolved around her. So it made sense in her head that if something happened to her, her world would fall apart. Can you see where this is leading?
So I had to deal with the MIL who very much believed that Bess' world would fall apart if (1) anything happened to the MIL and (2) she didn't get to see enough of the MIL. I also got to deal with her calling my husband overseas anytime she didn't get the answer she wanted from me, and brow-beating, guilt-tripping, and sometimes just shaming him into giving her permission to do whatever she wanted. With my baby. There were times I wondered why I was even there because my husband was unknowingly taking away my motherhood while he was enabling her NPD.
There was one truly horrible thing that happened while he was still gone. And at least part of this was the MIL's fault simply because she put her needs ahead of what I think of as manners. The MIL is an LCSW (licensed counselor of social work) and she sometimes has trouble taking that hat off when she's not at work. I had made plans with her to bring Bess up for a long weekend so that she could see the baby. Unbeknownst to me, she had a friend in town who was de-toxing from alcoholism. This friend calls her unexpectedly and tells her she can't stay where she had been & needed a place. MIL says come stay with me. Which would have been fine except this is the same weekend that my baby & are I staying with her. She told me NOTHING about her friend until I'd already driven the distance to her house. It was close to evening time and I didn't want to go back to my parent's house because Bess traveled horribly in the car after dark. So we stayed that night & the next day I told her, and other of my husband's family members that I wasn't comfortable with the situation. Everyone basically blew me off, told me it would be fine. My husband was at the time still in the "You need to try harder to get along with her" mode so nothing I said to him really made a difference at that point. The next morning I woke up, was getting cereal for Bess, and noticed the MIL's friend talking to someone in the bedroom down the hall. I went down to say hi to whoever it was & there was no one in there but her. She proceeded to tell me she was talking to her children who she thought were playing hide and seek in a chair and somewhere else in the room. Every freaking hair on my head stood up. I didn't know this woman, I didn't know what she was capable of, and my damn MIL was nowhere to be found. I put the dog outside, grabbed my cell phone, locked myself in the bedroom where Bess was & started calling people. Because I only had the MIL's house # and not her cell #. I got in touch with my parents who told me to leave and leave at once. If I had that probably would have been the end of my marriage. I got Renee's phone number from them & probably a bit hysterically told her what was going on. She called the MIL who then called the house & left a message on the answering machine that she was on her way back. And my hands are really shaking right now while I type all this up. Anyway...it was scary as hell, and when it was all over the MIL sat down & told me I should trust her. I had no words. I just wanted to be far and away from her. While none of us could have known that a drug the friend was on could cause psychosis in detoxing alcoholics, I still blame the MIL for just not cancelling that weekend. We could have rescheduled. But she always puts her needs in front of everything else, and that time it ended really badly.
And my husband's first words to me after all that were "Are you & Bess okay? You know it wasn't Mom's fault, right?"
It has been a very long and trying road for us. I'll write some about what happened after he got back from Korea and we moved to New Mexico another time. It does amaze me in a good way that we've been able to work through most of this issues with his mother in our marriage.